First a truth-in-advertising statement:
The first concert I ever attended as a kid was Barclay James Harvest, and
the third LP I ever bought was ... yup, Barclay James Harvest. So expect a wee
Perhaps the real point is - although never recognized as one of the big 5 -
or even the big 10 - back in the golden era of progressive music, this band was
very much in the limelight, they were signed to EMI at the same time as Pink
Floyd, EMI's Harvest Records was named for them, and people bought their records
and went to their concerts in droves. In fact, some 200,000 lucky Germans saw
them on August 30, 1980, when Barclay James Harvest played a free concert at the
historic Reichstag in Berlin. Look at the cover art - 200,000 people is the
equivalent of four stadiums! The recording became the group's biggest selling
album in England, rising to number 15 in 1982.
They'd just lost keyboard and Mellotron-maestro Woolly Wolstenholme, so the
sound carried a stronger guitar emphasis than usual. But despite that change,
each band member's performance was almost flawless, and some songs approach the
perfection of their original studio recordings. The recording itself was less
than perfect, though, and equipment malfunctions yielded strange noises and
buzzes throughout the concert. So several overdubs were done - which explains
why the album wasn't released until 1982, and which may also explain
those wonderful performances.
For those not familiar with Barclay James Harvest - commonly known as BJH -
their brand of music was soft, pastoral, almost folksy songs with wonderful
melodies and an early Moody Blues quality. The vocals are nicely harmonized, and
the aggressive guitar, and prominent Mellotron lines are leading
The song called "Berlin" was obviously one of the crowd pleasers. It's a
heart-rending piano-led ballad fully deserving the crowd's enthusiastic response
in any venue - but the Berlin audience's reaction is spine-chilling. Another
crowd pleaser was "Mockingbird", a well-known 1970s progressive anthem and a
long-time personal favorite with its gentle, simple melody and innocent lyrics.
Played against a backdrop of keyboards instead of the orchestras they often
used, it still comes across as a rich, nicely layered piece that deserves its
place in the prog-rock hall of fame. "Child of the Universe" is a shopping list
of the problems of the world - at the time. It has references to Northern
Ireland, South Africa and Vietnam, and it's interesting to reflect on what the
all-consuming world events were 25 years ago, yet today, they've been relegated
to the pages of history books. "In Memory of the Martyrs" is another haunting
piece, in the vein of a Celtic ballad, and they often finished up with "Hymn"
which works well, as a soft, thoughtful closer.
On the other hand - "Sip of Wine" and particularly "Life Is for Living" are
more approachable and radio-ready than most of BJH's output, and although the
audience may have enjoyed them, they aren't strongest pieces on the record.
Berlin (A Concert for the People) is a brief but excellent summary of
BJH's earlier works, and Eclectic's re-master brings a sound quality that was
simply not possible in the early '80s, and includes 2 extra tracks that were
recorded at the concert but weren't on the original LP. If you don't know
Barclay James Harvest's music, start here
and work backward through their studio recordings. If you're already familiar
with their music, you need this one.
1. Love on the Line
3. Rock n' Roll Lady
4. Nova Lepidoptera
5. Sip of Wine
6. In Memory of the Martyrs
7. Life is for Living
8. Child of the Universe
10.Loving is Easy